Sunday, October 17, 2004

October 16, 2004
We held our roundtable discussion in the Capri 101 room. Appearing with me were, the chair, Paul Hutton; the very zany artist Thom Ross (more on him later); our very own Johnny D. Boggs; Paul Hedren of the national park service; and William Heath of Mount Saint Mary's College.

Our topic, Beyond the Academy: Bringing the West to the Public.

I thought it went well. However, after all of us had talked too long and taken several soft ball questions, the youngest person in the room (a young man who looked to be in his mid to late twenties) raised his hand and chided us, telling us he was disappointed in the roundtable because we didn't talk about writing on the internet. We sat there like old men without a clue. And the session was over. Kathy later asked me why I didn't engage him and I said, "Because I had already yakked too much." But I knew instinctively this is where the session should have begun. As I told the gathering during my ten minute dissertation, when I took over the magazine, the problem with our younger writers is that they were all in their sixties (our first reader’s poll showed the average age at 67!). We bemoan not knowing how to attract young people to the field and here is one and we don't know what to say to him. Ouch!

It gets worse.

Keep in mind I am an outsider. I have never been to a Western History Association Conference. I have never looked academia in the face. Frankly, it is a chilling sight. For one thing I heard over and over how the new history being taught at the University level boils everything down to three things: race, class and gender.

"I hate narrative history," was how one student described the issue to me. Let's see, that would include exactly every single thing I love about history. This same student told me they want to get past all of the old school hokum (I assume that means all the racist, misogynist, capitalist propaganda) and "analyze" history, presumably so they can rectify all of the wrongs done to them, especially to their race, their class and their gender.

I also heard on more than one occasion that these same firebrands were incensed that an anglo, from the Arizona Historical Society, had the temerity to give a talk on Apache lifeways.

While I understand the desire to be a bit territorial about "our" history (often Billy the Kid expert Fred Nolan, who is English, is bashed with the admonition, "Why don’t you stay home and write about your own country."), isn't it in fact racist to criticize someone on their ability to talk intelligently about a subject based on their race?

Coming next: Showdown at the Kurtis Sexist Corral.

"I come from a stupid family. During the Civil War my great uncle fought for
the west!"

—Rodney DangerfieldT

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